Event Photography – let me clarify this at the beginning that this particular genre of photography encircles a huge area. There are several other sub-genres that come under event photography – corporate photography, corporate portrait photography and photojournalism are few among those.Event Photography is among my personal favorites. It might sound unglamorous or boring, but the truth is the idea of event photography is beautifully vague, and therefore allencompassing. Yes, event photography does often include shooting black tie corporate events or weddings, but it can also cover festivals, concerts, sports, and some really cool events of the sort.It’s for this particular reason I (sometimes) love branding myself as an event photographer (at events only!) –my title is, like myself, fabulously flexible. So the question should actually be what isn’t event photography? But that’s altogether a different story! Let’s get into the technical aspects – everything about it – from camera and lenses to settings and different ways to shoot at the event. This article is purely all tech, from a photo-enthusiast who is techie at heart.
A lil deep into the genre:
As I mentioned, event photography does require a great deal of flexibility, especially in terms of the days and hours you work. Most events are held on weekday evenings or on weekends, so in that sense event photographers typically have a schedule that is anything but the usual 9am-5pm office hours. The duration of events can also vary, lasting anywhere from an hour to two to several days, or even a whole week. Again, it is important to discuss with your client or the host approximately how many hours they expect you to be covering their event so that you aren’t caught by surprise.
It goes without saying that you will need a professional camera – forget about corporate event photography with a point and shoot. Although you can get away with one camera body, I would recommend two cameras, one with a wide-angle lens and another with a telephoto lens. That way you can quickly capture any action without the need to frequently change lenses. Plus, the second camera body will be your backup in case the first one fails.In terms of type of a camera, I would recommend a low-noise DSLR camera that can shoot at ISO 800 and above without introducing much noise to the picture. Obviously, full frame cameras such as Nikon D700/D3s or Canon 5D2/1Ds would do best, but crop-sensor bodies can also be used, as long as there is sufficient light or external flash is used. With external flash, there is almost no difference in what DSLR you use – the difference in image quality is not going to be very noticeable. Many event photographers use a full frame camera as their main camera while having a smaller and lighter backup camera for special needs, which also works great.
When it comes to lenses, I suggest professional-level lenses that can work very well in low light and produce pleasant bokeh. I highly recommend having at least two lenses – one for portraits and one for wide-angle shots (for groups and extreme close-ups). My favorite Nikon portrait lenses for event photography are Nikon 50mm f/1.4, Nikon 85mm f/1.4/1.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (read my review of the Nikon 70-200mm VRII). Canon has a similar selection for portrait lenses, but has a slight edge in prime lenses: Canon 50mm f/1.2/1.4, Canon 85mm f/1.2/1.8 and Canon 70- 200mm f/2.8.As far as wide-angle lenses, I prefer to shoot with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 on a full-frame body and with 17-35mm f/2.8 or Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 on a DX body. Canon also has a similar Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 and Canon 17-40mm f/4.0 are also excellent.If for whatever reason I cannot bring more than one lens, then my choice is the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 – it works great in low light and does a superb job in producing creamy bokeh.
Unless you are shooting during the day outdoors, an external flash is a must! Your in-camera flash is not sufficient for event photography and you do not want to be shooting direct flash, because it will create nasty shadows and really ugly skin tones. Make sure that you get a flash that has an adjustable head, because you can bounce flash off white ceilings and walls, creating a more natural-looking light with very soft shadows.For Nikon cameras, I recommend the Nikon SB-900 flashes, while for Canon cameras, I recommend the Canon 580 EX II. If you do not need much flash power, the Nikon SB-600 and Canon 430EX II will also perform well, however, keep in mind that neither of the latter are equipped with a slot for external battery packs and they have a longer flash recycle time. The Quantum Q-Flash is also a very popular external flash that many professionals prefer over the Nikon or Canon brand flashes.If flash photography is prohibited, you will need to talk to the event organizer about increasing the amount of ambient light in the room, or perhaps adding more continuous light (such as video light) for your photography. In that case, having a low-noise DSLR camera with a fast lens is going to be extremely useful. Another nice thing about flashes, is that you can add a nice catch-light to the subject’s eyes.
In some cases, you might be asked to take pictures of arriving guests in one specific area. If you are shooting from one location, it might be best to set up an off-camera flash for better quality light. While bouncing the light off the ceiling or a wall produces nice-looking images, having a separate off-camera flash setup is still undeniably the best way to obtain great-looking portraits. I prefer to carry at least one umbrella kit with me in case I need to set up a quick off-camera light.
“ Most DSLR cameras will let you move the focus function from the shutter to a dedicated button on the back of the camera. ”
For normal photography without flash, I typically use “Aperture Priority” mode. I find that this mode works best for low-light situations and I have complete control over the depth of field by increasing or decreasing the aperture. For flash photography, I always use “Manual” mode and use shutter speeds between 1/50 to 1/200, depending on how much ambient light I want to let in. Aperture varies between f/2.8 and f/5.6.
If I’m shooting without a flash, I turn “Auto ISO” on, set its “Maximum sensitivity” to 3200 on FX and 800 on DX and “Minimum shutter speed” to 1/50th of a second. You might want to increase the minimum shutter speed to a higher number like 1/100 if you have shaky hands. When using flash, I turn off “Auto ISO” and set ISO to the base value, which is “200” on almost all modern Nikon cameras. There might be cases when I need more light when using a flash and I might bump up the ISO to 400 or 800 every once in a while, but generally I like to keep it low.
Focusing in low-light environments can be very challenging. Be careful about using large apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8, since you might end up with a very blurry image if the focus lands elsewhere. If your shutter speed drops below 1/50th of a second and you are already near your maximum aperture, you should consider using external flash. I typically do not use my camera shutter for focusing and move the function to “AF” button on the back of my camera. That way, I can focus multiple times and recompose the image, if needed. Most DSLR cameras will let you move the focus function from the shutter to a dedicated button on the back of the camera, so I suggest that you give it a try and see how you like it.
“ Photographing groups indoors is a challenging task. Bouncing the light off the dropped ceilings produces the best-looking group shots. ”
In terms of servo mode, I prefer to use the “Continuous” servo mode (AF-C), in case my subjects move. On Nikon DSLRs, you can switch to the Continuous Servo mode by simply moving the switch to “C” position in the front of the camera.
I find that Matrix metering (also known as “Evaluative” metering in Canon world) works best for me. The only exception is when there is a bright background on the back of the subject when I’m shooting without a flash – that’s when I switch to spot metering and let the background overexpose a little. When I use flash, the metering is not important, since I shoot in manual mode anyway.
Composition, Background and Bokeh
Although you are primarily photographing people, do not forget about composition and try to be a little more creative in your photographs. It gets boring if all pictures you submit to your client have people centered in the frame. Try to frame your shot differently every once in a while and position yourself so that you do not have messy backgrounds behind your subjects.The background part is not always easy, especially when the place is full of people that move around, but you should still try. If you see a better background with a nicer light, politely ask your subjects to move around a little bit and they will gladly do that for you. This doesn’t mean that you should be moving people from one place to another just to get your shot though!
I find that group shots are the toughest to work on, especially when the group is large and the amount of ambient light is low. You should always plan for these kinds of shots and this is another item that you should ask from the event organizer beforehand.I prefer to shoot groups outside, because I do not have to worry about setting up the lights and making sure that the light is distributed evenly. If you are taking a picture of a group outside, then your biggest issue is going to be putting the group together and making them all look good for your pictures. Talk to your group, come up with a nice joke or two to make the group laugh naturally. Take lots of pictures and shoot in bursts.Photographing groups indoors is a challenging task. Bouncing the light off the dropped ceilings produces the best-looking group shots. If you have a small or medium-size group with 8-10 people standing close to each other, you might get away with a single flash, as long as you can bounce it off a white ceiling. Try to keep the group as tight as possible, which means asking the group to stand in multiple rows and close to each other.If you have a relatively large group of people in three rows, you could set up two or three light stands with external flashes, put them in manual mode to quarter or half power and point them at a 30-45 degree angle towards the group. The flash power will obviously depend on the amount of ambient light in the room, so you will have to play with that beforehand and make sure that you are providing sufficient amount of light to bounce off the ceiling onto your subjects. If you are not getting enough power from your flashes, try increasing the camera ISO.Make sure that the light bounces off and hits the center of the group (middle row), not the front or the rear row. That way, the light will spread evenly across the group and illuminate everyone. If the room is lit with florescent light, you might need to use some gels with your flashes to match the light.